Coalition negotiations diary: Week starting November 8
Polling day at Estonia's local elections ended nearly a month ago, meaning most of the loose ends have been tied up on who will be ruling the 79 municipalities up and down the country.
There are two types of municipality, city – which includes towns such as Keila, population a little over 10,000, or Loksa, with barely 2,500 inhabitants – and rural municipalities – which can also include relatively densely populated commuter belt districts such as Viimsi.
Most of the municipalities are ruled by coalitions, often featuring local electoral alliances – locality-specific groups which present an alternative to the mainstream parties and often end up ruling together with them in coalition.
Municipalities have a mayor, more accurately translated as a municipal elder (Estonian: Vallavanem), and a council chair (Volikogu esimees), speaker of the council really, while the council itself (Volikogu) is made up of the municipal government (Valitsus) and the opposition.
The complexities of local business and other relationships play out in the municipalities and also have a nexus with the Riigikogu – around half of MPs hold local council seats.
The local elections are not really a time for idealism either – socially liberal parties such as Reform and Eesti 200 will quite happily enter into coalition with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) at the local level, regardless of what they say on the national platform.
There is also no conflict between running for an electoral alliance in the local elections while belonging to one of the mainstream parties.
Sometimes parties with an absolute majority will boost their majority by adding in a junior coalition partner; in any case a majority is sought after by hook or by crook, and usually remains in place through to the next local elections, which will be held in 2025 – seems a long way off now, but Tempus Fugit.
This is week three of a digest ERR News has been putting together so far, featuring both signed deals and ongoing discussions, plus related news. Last week's is here, week one's is here.
Since all electoral complaints have now been satisfied at the Supreme Court, the way is open for the election results to be declared official. When that happens, councils have a week before they have to take up their seats, meaning any coalition negotiations have to be done and dusted in the next few days.
This means this coalition diary is likely the penultimate installment; next week's will be that last.
All links in Estonian unless otherwise noted; dates refer to when the developments were reported in the media.
Võru municipality consists of electoral alliance and Reform
The rural municipality in Võru, southeast Estonia, has confirmed Georg Ruuda of the Ühise Valla Eest (English: For a united municipality) electoral alliance as its mayor, with Aivar Rosenberg (Reform) becoming council chair, regional daily Lõuna Eesti reports.
Ruuda said that there were going to be no major changes in infrastructure spending and 80-90 percent of the municipality's budget would remain in place.
He added that the coalition was not formed on the basis of an adversarial coalition-opposition makeup, but that good ideas would be given equal weight wherever they came from.
"This is elementary in local government. We do not have to follow the example of the Riigikogu, where hundreds of proposals are made, and not taken into account", he said.
Seven of the 21 members of the Võru rural municipality council are new, but four of them have previous work experience in the council, he said; the coalition together has 15 seats on the 21-seat council, with EKRE (four) and Center (two) making up the opposition.
The original Lõuna Eesti article is here.
Isamaa candidate puts himself forward as council chair, squabbles ensue over nature of ballot
The coalition in the Järva County town of Paide, made up of electoral alliance Inimeste Linn ("The people's town"), the Center Party and the Reform Party, has 13 seats on the 23-seat council, and has nominated Siret Pihelgas (Inimeste Linn) mayor of Tallinn, regional daily Järva Teataja reports.
Karl Jakobson (Center) and Piret Moora (Reform) are deputy mayors, while Tarmo Aldi (Reform) has been nominated council chair, Järva Teataja reports, while Alo Aasma (Inimeste Linn) and Peeter Saldre (Center) are his deputies.
Isamaa, EKRE, and another election coalition, Uus Paide, make up the oppostiion.
Isamaa's candidate for council chair, Mihhail Feštšin failed to become council chair, either despite or because of plenty of bickering over the nature of his attempted election.
This was initially done in secret but then done so that at least a neighboring deputy could see how the councilor was voting – prompted protest from Isamaa and a third, secret ballot with the ensuing third ballot involving deputies taking a photo of their vote on their phone, so as to prove how they voted later, if needed – this did not help Feštšin who, with 10 votes in ballot three, missed out on a majority.
The original Järva Teataja piece is here.
Paide's original coalition agreement involving Paide – Inimeste Linn and Uus Paide, was ripped up, and replaced by second involving both Reform and Center, and Inimeste Linn, but not Uus Paide, which is now in opposition.
Põhjarannik: Elected councilors should be able to speak and understand Estonian
The use of the Estonian language was in focus in an editorial published by Ida-Viru County local daily Põhjarannik, which said that there will be deputies sitting on Narva, Sillamäe, Kohtla-Järve, Narva-Jõesuu and Jõhvi councils, who do not speak Estonian – the state language and the working language of these councils.
Põhjarannik proposed as a solution these deputies learn to master Estonian by next spring, for instance by enrolling on a course at the Narva Eesti Keele Maja (Estonian Language House).
Põhjarannik said that councilors with a slender grip on Estonian should not be called on to resign, adding that given the region – Ida-Viru County towns are largely Russian-majority speaking – expecting full councils stocked with deputies who have a perfect command of Estonian would be unrealistic.
However, not being able to understand what was being said, councilors would not be able to understand chamber debates or read documents, and in turn would not be able to represent the constituents who voted for them adequately enough, and would merely be rubber stamping policy.
While Põhjarannik denies that its call to speak Estonian properly is a form of persecution, the editorial argues that councilors may also be called upon to speak to journalists and to have a grasp of national issues as well as local ones, in addition to a pre-supposed respect for the Estonian state which ought to be in place when being elected to public office, the paper argues.
The original Põhjarannik piece is here.
Former Center MP forced to leave Riigikogu over surveillance scandal to be Põhja-Sakala council chair
Former Center MP Priit Toobal is chair of the Põhja-Sakala rural municipality in Viljandi County as of Saturday, regional daily Sakala reports, after a five-year break away from politics – Toobal, 38, had been caught up in a surveillance scandal in 2015 which forced him to have to quit the Riigikogu.
The rainbow coalition comprises the Kogukonna Hääl electoral alliance (four seats), Center (three seats), EKRE (three seats) Isamaa (two seats) and Eesti 200 (one seat).
This gives it the largest number of parties nationwide, which Toobal said was in fact a strength.
Toobal was sole nominee for the post of council chair, with no option to vote against him presented, other than leaving a paper blank, while he received 12 votes, with 6 abstentions, while Mait Rand (EKRE) and Kuldar Kipper (Kogukonna Hääl) were elected council vice-chairs.
In another farcical interlude, no members of the preceding rural municipality sitting attended the formality of requesting release from office, meaning rural municipality secretary Veronika Ling had to read it out – reasons for non-attendance included the formal rural municipality mayor, Jaanus Rahula, who was busy in his role as an auxiliary policeman in Pärnu that evening, the paper reported.
The original Sakala article is here.
In 2014, Toobal and his co-accused former Center MP Lauri Laasi were charged with hacking the email account of Hannes Rumm, head of the European Commission's representation in Estonia at the time.
Tapa plans to get new mayor via competitive process
A new coalition in the Lääne-Viru County town of Tapa, home of the NATO military base, will consist of the local electoral alliance Valgejõgi, along with EKRE, though no new rural municipality mayor has been appointed, regional daily Virumaa Teataja (VT) reports, with a competitive process likely to start to find a non-political candidate.
Alari Kirt (Valgejõgi) and Aiger Põder (EKRE) are council chair and deputy chair respectively, and the council is due to start work on November 18.
Sitting mayor Riho Tell (Reform) will remain in office until a new municipality mayor is found – which, VT reports, under electoral law could be up until Christmas time, since a mayor must be appointed and confirmed within two months of election day (October 17 this year).
Põder said he did not want the role of mayor himself, adding that noone has expressed a desire to him to do so, while Kirt said that the best solution would be to hold the competitive process on November 18, giving two weeks for nominations and a mayor in place by December 2 – though stressed that he was speaking for himself and not the entire council.
The original VT piece is here.
Lõuna Eesti, Sakala, Põhjarannik, Virumaa Teataja and Järva Teataja are all part of the Postimees Group, whose publications dominate the major, regional newspaper market. One notable exception is Lääne Elu (not referred to in this piece), which is independently-owned and covers Haapsalu and Lääne County.
Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!
Editor: Andrew Whyte